"Anonymous" Is a Work of Speculative Fiction About Shakespeare's Works

Reiner Bajo

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is the close-second candidate to be attributed authorship of the 37 plays of William Shakespeare — who, due to the troublesome existence of evidence, remains the general favorite. De Vere, played as a figure of regal isolation by Rhys Ifans, is the protagonist of Anonymous, a work of speculative fiction that assumes the Earl's secret authorship as fact. A member of the peerage, de Vere hatches a plan to use the power of theater to sway public opinion in support of his young friend, the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid), in his bid to succeed the aging Queen Elizabeth. They are opposed in this by Elizabeth's father and son advisers, William and Robert Cecil (David Thewlis and Edward Hogg), who wish to see James of Scotland on the throne — and are, inconveniently, de Vere's in-laws. De Vere, having sworn to his wife's family that he would set down his pen, first chooses fellow playwright Ben Jonson as the public face to take credit for his verse — but the credit is usurped by a drunken, whoremongering actor named, you guessed it, Bill Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). Although Shakespeare was known to turn out some rather juiced-up histories himself, it is the particular idiocy of our time that the past is apparently marketable only via Da Vinci Code conspiratorial jabbering, here degrading the canon to the level of potboiler. With better performances than it has any right to boast, Anonymous is only sporadically enjoyable as camp.

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Helen Gordon
Helen Gordon

Emmerich has done the world a favor by calling attention to a credible scenario that explains why "William Shakespeare" was a pen name used by the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.There is actually more evidence that de Vere was a playwright, poet, and genius than there is for the default candidate, a Stratford businessman who had a similar name, and who has been confused with the author Shakespeare for 400 years. The records of the Stratford Grammar School have been destroyed, so there is no proof that Mr. Shakspere (that's how he spelled his own name) ever attended school there. Oxford, however, had a university degree by the age of 14 and the equivalent of a master's degree at age 17.  He attended Gray's Law School and traveled extensively in Italy.  So we know he had the background to have written the plays.  He was a genius, no doubt, but he did not acquire his vast knowledge and mastery of the English language (plus 4 others) just by rubbing elbows in a tavern with aristocrats. His malicious father-in-law, William Cecil, tried to eradicate any connections he had with the Elizabethan court, and left records that besmirched Oxford's name.  Thus, as Hamlet says at the end of the play, "What a wounded name I leave behind, things standing thus unknown."  Thanks to Emmerich and scriptwriter John Orloff to bring Oxford's story into the light of day.


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